Week 1 Reading

Things That Make Us Smart

Donald A. Norman

Natural Interfaces are Not Natural

Donald A. Norman

It was really interesting to read Donald A. Norman books as I have fortunately had the chance of listening to his lectures back in undergrad. He was a visiting professor at my undergrad university KAIST (Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) and students got to talk to him about his thoughts on future interfaces. It was interesting to read about his ideas on how people perceive interfaces and makes use of metarepresentations. There are so many ways to convert meaningless text into an understandable diagram. With the incorporation of NUI, there can only be so much more diversity. I remember Donald Norman’s saying that a small change can change everything. Donald Norman’s use of how people think and incorporating it to increase the power of representation interested and still interests me. As I read more articles about interfaces and link it with the success of Apple, I’m starting to believe that there is no perfect user interface. Whoever creates an effective interface and teaches it faster is the winner.

Donald Norman states that the unaided mind is highly overrated. I only half agree to this statement as although I wholeheartedly believe that external aids are necessary for the maintenance of memory, thought, and reasoning, we in ourselves use only the minimal portions of our brains before we die. I remember hearing that people usually only use 1/10th of their brains before death. In Korea, some children come out on TV shows in order to show off their memory. They can memorize a whole page of text in a few minutes or they can calculate long multiplications or divisions in just seconds. This is because some of these children educated in Korea are literally not allowed to use calculators at all. They are trained everyday to mentally calculate all math problems. This, I believe stirs and trains the brain so that it can adapt to more information and can manipulate with lots of information inside the brain. Honestly speaking, although I come from a science and technology school that requires intensive math and physics calculations, I kind of forget how to solve simple equations without the calculator. I believe we rely too much on technology and given rules nowadays that if the world experienced a total blackout, then all human would be rendered useless. We wouldn’t be able to carry out simple tasks such as making a fire for cooking or creating light without electricity. This thought sometimes scares me.

I believe too – as mentioned in the book — that humans sometimes take in information in a much too simple manner and without thinking at all. Just like the book points out, the fault of not interpreting contents in books lies with the reader, not the book. We rarely question books or ideas from famous writers or CEOs. Instead, we believe all information provided is true and of maximum capability. We believe that because a famous writer wrote it or a famous CEO said it, it is always true. These types of actions are what I believe causes monopolies such as eBay and Craigslist. Because such sites were the first of its kind, people always conceive of it to have the maximum capability. The concepts are engraved in people’s minds and prevent people from rooting out of the basic concept. I strongly believe each and every one of us must question if every cognitive artifact is optimized to portray at its best.


You are Not a Gadget

Jaron Lanier

The Great Wall of Facebook

Fred Vogelstein

The Web Means the End of Forgetting

Jeffrey Rosen

The most impactful statement of this reading to me was about winning subcultures of technology being called “cybernetic totalists” or “digital Maoists.” It somewhat struck to me that monopolies are so prevalent in today’s technology that although we know we can survive without technologies such as google and facebook, we also know that we can’t survive without technologies such as google and facebook. I believe that privilege has now become necessity with the likes of search engines and social network services. Sure we can physically survive without such technologies, but can we actually survive mentally without catching up to recent technology? It is no wonder that Jaron Lanier considers digital cultures such as future of privacy and copy-rights as a future threat to human wellbeing. In a stage where global warming, avoiding wars of mass destruction, aging population, etc. are of great concern, we should also start to think about the web world and how to prevent people from “breaking” web laws. I somewhat believe that after we survive what is geographical, demographical and natural disasters, we will face problems where the intensity of breaking a “web law” is so severe as to imprison people.

“The most important thing about a technology is how it changes people.” As explained in the book, the web was something so many people were gladly working on developing without the presence of advertising, commercial motive, threat of punishment, exploitation of the fear of death, etc. Like the brand name FUBU (For Us By Us), technology should also have the same motto. This is why I am so interested in open source and want to learn how to maneuver with it. Jaron Lanier emphasizes the fact that people should innovate and stay away from given templates in order to further develop the world. This is what differs people from machine. In this context, I agree with Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for a more personalized, humanized Web, where networks of friends, colleagues, peers, and family are the primary source of information instead of a dispassionate atlas of the online world in Google as stated by Fred Vogelstein.


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